Skywatch for the week of August 23, 2021
Aug 22 Full Moon
Mon Aug 23, 2021 RAY BRADBURY AND MARS
The science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury was born on August 22nd, 1920. He began his career by writing short stories for pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, Planet Stories and Galaxy Science Fiction. He also wrote, “Fahrenheit 451,” “R is for Rocket,” and “The Golden Apples of the Sun.” His book, “The Martian Chronicles,” came out in 1950; it was a series of related short stories about the colonization of the planet Mars, something which is very much in the news these days. Bradbury envisioned terraforming Mars, also being discussed lately. While building pressure domes and living underground on Mars is perhaps achievable, trying to restore a viable Martian atmosphere is still well beyond our current technology, and at the moment, Mars itself is also out of sight, as it’s behind the sun, on the opposite side of the solar system from where we are. Well, like Bradbury, we can dream!
Tue Aug 24, 2021 THE PLUTO VOTE
Fifteen years ago today, in the year 2006, members of the International Astronomical Union, or the IAU, voted Pluto out of the planet club. At the time the IAU had about 10,000 astronomers as members, but on the last day of their conference in Prague, only 424 of them participated in the voting. That’s a little over 4 percent turnout for the vote, and yes, you had to be in the room to vote – no absentee ballots. Does this sound like scientists aren’t any different from your average politician? Yes it does. And that’s because scientists are people too, and therefore can be just as mean, stubborn and stupid as anybody else on the planet. Members of the American Astronomical Society weren’t happy about the vote. Neither was Alan Stern, the principal scientist who oversaw the successful New Horizons mission to Pluto that took place in 2015, revealing an incredible world with nitrogen ice plains and great water ice mountains.
Wed Aug 25, 2021 ORION AFTER MIDNIGHT
Orion the Hunter has been absent from our evening skies for a couple of months now. If you want to find him tonight, you’ll have to go out long after midnight. He rises out of the east around 3 am, and climbs up into the southeastern sky as dawn approaches. If you’d rather see Orion during the evening hours, then you’ll have to wait until October, and even then it won’t be just after sunset, but in the late evening. As the year and the seasons progress, the earth’s revolution carries us around the sun: stars behind the sun cannot be seen until the earth takes us a little farther along the orbital path, which changes the sun’s position against the background of stars. This summer’s evening skies feature such constellations as Libra the Scales, Scorpius the Scorpion, Sagittarius the Archer, Hercules, (one of the ancient world’s greatest heroes,) Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan.
Thu Aug 26, 2021 THE CRAB NEBULA
On the night of August 28th in the year 1758, the Crab Nebula was discovered with a telescope. The nebula's discoverer, Charles Messier of France, thought at first that it was a comet, which when seen far out in space, resembles a small fuzzy splotch of light. But unlike comets, this fuzzy object didn't move against the starry background. Hour after hour, night after night, the thing refused to budge. Disappointed in his failure to find a new comet, Messier catalogued this object as Messier #1, or M-1, and from then on, whenever he saw it, he quickly moved on to more promising candidates. But when bigger and better telescopes were invented, other astronomers found that M-1, the Crab Nebula, is more impressive than any comet: it is the exploded remains of a star that went supernova. Tonight M-1 can be found, with a telescope, low in the east northeast, a little after 1 AM, behind the forward horn tip of Taurus the Bull.
Fri Aug 27, 2021 KRAKATOA
On August 27, 1883, the volcano known as Krakatoa exploded, creating the loudest sound ever heard in recorded history. Australians, nearly 3,000 miles away, heard it. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives, either directly from the heat of the blast of from falling debris, or from the resulting tsunami activity. Shock waves from the event traveled around the world, and volcanic ash blanketed thousands of miles of the earth. The ash and the explosive gases from the eruption sailed high up into the atmosphere, and for the next year, the earth’s average temperature dropped by over a couple of degrees Fahrenheit. It also resulted in months of spectacular, colorful sunsets across the planet. Dozens of years later, the shattered remnants of Krakatoa grew a new mountain, named Anak Krakatau, the “child of Krakatoa.” In December 2018, the child erupted, and more tsunamis caused still more death and devastation throughout Indonesia.